As the Xavier Musketeers begin play in the Tire Pros Invitational on Thursday afternoon, a familiar opponent awaits them: The Missouri Tigers.
You may remember Xavier completed a home-and-home sweep of Missouri last season, so Mizzou is likely not thrilled to see the Musketeers once again.
Big East Coast Bias : This is now the third straight year Xavier and Missouri have played. Are there any big changes for the Tigers compared to the past couple years?
Sam Snelling: Mizzou has featured massive amounts of roster turnover from one year to the next over the past 3 offseasons. When you get a new coach, they usually like to turn the roster over pretty quickly but Kim Anderson has been more methodical. So this roster is the first one he can completely call "his own". If you saw the game two years ago, you won't recognize a single Missouri player this time around. They've got one upperclassmen who will play and he was a Junior College transfer last year (Russell Woods). They have another transfer who'll be eligible at semester who is a Junior (Jordan Barnett), but most of the faces are relatively new. If you saw the game last year, you may recognize Terrence Phillips, KJ Walton, Kevin Puryear and Cullen VanLeer, all of whom played a LOT as freshmen on a bad team. Missouri has steadily gotten younger, but the coaching staff is hopeful that a roster full of players of their own choosing will being to usher in some more success. Xavier is their first real test.
BECB: Can you take anything away from Missouri's big win over Alabama A&M in the first game of the season?
SS: No. You really can't. Alabama A&M, and I'm not joking, might be the worst college basketball team I've ever see play. They've got one guy who I think is a Division 1 player, and a bunch of other guys who don't do many basketball-type-things well. If there's one place to feel good about this game, it's that the Tigers destroyed the Bulldogs from the tip and it wasn't even a contest after about 3 possessions. Missouri didn't play all that well in the first half and were still up by 30 at halftime. Many Missouri fans are looking at this entire weekend as a chance to either buy or sell on this years team, because after two years of being terrible, we're all looking for reasons to care again.
BECB: Through two games, Xavier has gotten 62% of its points from three guards -- Edmond Sumner, JP Macura, and Trevon Bluiett. How will Missouri look to shut them down?
SS: This is a huge concern for me coming into the game. Missouri was not a good defensive team from last year, and their three starting guards are young and not particularly physical. I think Terrence Phillips is probably the most active defensively, so he'll likely matchup with Sumner, he gives up some size but has the quickness you hope he can cause some problems. Phillips also has a tendency to gamble and get out of position, so he's the obvious matchup but there's risk.
Next I think you matchup Cullen VanLeer against JP Macura, slow crafty white guy matchup. Honestly, CVL isn't physical enough or athletic enough to challenge Blueitt so I think you have to go this route. Then I think they'll throw a number of people at Blueitt. I'd guess that Hughes will get the start on him, he's long and athletic, but he's also a freshman and Missouri's most natural scorer so you'd hate to over expose him on defense to a guy he's probably not physically ready to guard. The best way for Mizzou to attack Blueitt would probably be to play small and try to hide their 4th guard, and defend Blueitt with a more physical player like Willie Jackson.
BECB: Xavier's biggest weakness this year, compared to years past, is a lack of size and experience in the frontcourt. Is this something Missouri could take advantage of?
SS: Not really, Mizzou's weakness is on the interior. They start Kevin Puryear, who is an effective but slightly undersized post guy with the ability to stretch the floor a bit, and Russell Woods who is limited offensively. Backing them up are a few freshmen, Reed Nikko, Mitchell Smith and Willie Jackson, a natural wing. Woods looks a little more effective than he was a year ago, and Puryear is an effective scorer. If they can find a way to attack O'Mara I could see Mizzou getting an Xavier big or two into foul trouble. But I'm worried they'll be able to complete physically on the glass.
BECB: Finally, what's your prediction for this game?
SS: I think Mizzou comes out charged up a bit, but Xavier is too good to let this team stay in the game. I think it'll be close through a lot of the first half, with Xavier being up by 8-10 at halftime. Then they'll extend early in the second half and end up winning comfortably. I'd guess around 86 - 70. Right now their guards are just too good for Mizzou's youth. It wouldn't surprise me if it were a touch closer, or if the Musketeers blew them out.